Editorial: Heath deserves better from state

 

Greenfield Recorder

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
(Published in print: Thursday, August 20, 2015)

Heath has to date done what’s been expected of the community to make a new safety complex a reality. It applied for and received a state grant toward the long overdue project.

The state government, however, has since withdrawn its $2 million grant, because of last-minute deficit-cutting. But this small Franklin County hill town should not have to go back to square one and reapply another year. Instead, the state should, as suggested by local legislators, put the project’s grant on hold while waiting to see if there’s a change in state finances that would allow for funding later this budget year.

That would be an approach that doesn’t penalize Heath for matters out of its control. And it would indicate the state Office of Administration and Finance was willing to come to a more amicable solution.

This is what state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. Paul Mark advocate in writing to the agency: “We ask that ANF recognize the importance of this contact to the community and place this project on the shortlist for FY16 slippage funds, in effect placing the contract on hold, subject to the availability of funds. We further suggest that if no funds are made available by June 30, 2016, that ANF take steps to program $2 million for this project into the FY17 capital plan.”

It’s not Heath’s fault that Gov. Charlie Baker inherited a budget shortfall and that required cutting spending. Even though town officials and supporters of the project may have been aware of the state’s money woes, there had been no indication until a couple of weeks ago that Heath would be on the list of projects that wouldn’t be getting funding.

What forced the Baker administration to essentially break the contract the state had here is understandable given the financial situation. But the state should not be adding insult to injury by throwing Heath’s plan back into the competition pool. That would ignore the time and effort Heath invested advancing its plan to replace the existing facility that now houses the Fire Department and highway garage with a modern and larger structure, one that could also house police and other emergency services. Convinced of the need and the financing details, residents at Heath’s town meeting had given their blessing to borrowing $1.8 million that would go toward the project.

Nor should Heath be penalized because former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration did not communicate with the Baker administration about the safety complex project or that it hasn’t been past state policy to keep projects in line when similar money issues have arisen in the past. The governor has the power to set new policy in such cases.

While the state may not be able to uphold the financial end of this contract, it should honor the spirit of its promise and provide Heath the money once it becomes available.